The Spirit of Love the Opposite of a Selfish Spirit
"Charity . . . seeks not her own" -- 1 Corinthians 13:5
Having shown the nature of charity in respect to the good of others, in the two particulars, that it is kind to them, and envies not their enjoyments and blessings; and also in respect to our own good, that it is not proud, either in spirit or behavior — I pass to the next point presented by the apostle, viz. that charity “seeketh not her own.” The doctrine of these words plainly is,
THAT THE SPIRIT OF CHARITY, OR CHRISTIAN LOVE, IS THE OPPOSITE OF A SELFISH SPIRIT.
The ruin that the fall brought upon the soul of man consists very much in his losing the nobler and more benevolent principles of his nature, and falling wholly under the power and government of self-love. Before, and as God created him, he was exalted, and noble, and generous; but now he is debased, and ignoble, and selfish. Immediately upon the fall, the mind of man shrank from its primitive greatness and expandedness, to an exceeding smallness and contractedness; and as in other respects, so especially in this. Before, his soul was under the government of that noble principle of divine love, whereby it was enlarged to the comprehension of all his fellow creatures and their welfare. And not only so, but it was not confined within such narrow limits as the bounds of the creation, but went forth in the exercise of holy love to the Creator, and abroad upon the infinite ocean of good, and was, as it were, swallowed up by it, and became one with it. But so soon as he had transgressed against God, these noble principles were immediately lost, and all this excellent enlargedness of man’s soul was gone; and thenceforward he himself shrank, as it were, into a little space, circumscribed and closely shut up within itself to the exclusion of all things else. Sin, like some powerful astringent, contracted his soul to the very small dimensions of selfishness; and God was forsaken, and fellow creatures forsaken, and man retired within himself, and became totally governed by narrow and selfish principles and feelings. Self-love became absolute master of his soul, and the more noble and spiritual principles of his being took wings and flew away. But God, in mercy to miserable man, entered on the work of redemption, and, by the glorious gospel of his Son, began the work of bringing the soul of man out of its confinement and contractedness, and back again to those noble and divine principles by which it was animated and governed at first. And it is through the cross of Christ that he is doing this; for our union with Christ gives us participation in his nature. And so Christianity restores an excellent enlargement, and extensiveness, and liberality to the soul, and again possesses it with that divine love or charity that we read of in the text, whereby it again embraces its fellow creatures, and is devoted to and swallowed up in the Creator. And thus charity, which is the sum of the Christian spirit, so partakes of the glorious fullness of the divine nature, that she “seeketh not her own,” or is contrary to selfish spirit. In dwelling on this thought, I would, first, show the nature of that selfishness of which charity is the opposite; then how charity is opposed to it; and then some of the evidence in support of the doctrine stated.
I. I would show the nature of that selfishness of which charity is the opposite. — And here I would observe,
1. Negatively, that charity, or the spirit of Christian love, is not contrary to all self-love. — It is not a thing contrary to Christianity that a man should love himself, or, which is the same thing, should love his own happiness. If Christianity did indeed tend to destroy a man’s love to himself, and to his own happiness, it would therein tend to destroy the very spirit of humanity; but the very announcement of the gospel, as a system of peace on earth and goodwill toward men (Luke 2:14), shows that it is not only not destructive of humanity, but in the highest degree promotive of its spirit. That a man should love his own happiness, is as necessary to his nature as the faculty of the will is; and it is impossible that such a love should be destroyed in any other way than by destroying his being. The saints love their own happiness. Yea, those that are perfect in happiness, the saints and angels in heaven, love their own happiness; otherwise that happiness which God hath given them would be no happiness to them; for that which anyone does not love he cannot enjoy any happiness in.
That to love ourselves is not unlawful, is evident also from the fact, that the law of God makes self-love a rule and measure by which our love to others should be regulated. Thus Christ commands (Mat. 19:19), “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself,” which certainly supposes that we may, and must, love ourselves. It is not said more than thyself, but as thyself. But we are commanded to love our neighbor next to God; and therefore we are to love ourselves with a love next to that which we should exercise toward God himself. And the same appears also from the fact, that the Scriptures, from one end of the Bible to the other, are full of motives that are set forth for the very purpose of working on the principle of self-love. Such are all the promises and threatenings of the Word of God, its calls and invitations, its counsels to seek our own good, and its warnings to beware of misery. These things can have no influence on us in any other way than as they tend to work upon our hopes or fears. For to what purpose would it be to make any promise of happiness, or hold forth any threatening of misery, to him that has no love for the former or dread of the latter? Or what reason can there be in counseling him to seek the one, or warning him to avoid the other? Thus it is plain, negatively, that charity, or the spirit of Christian love, is not contrary to all self-love. But I remark still further,
2. Affirmatively, that the selfishness which charity, or a Christian spirit, is contrary to, is only an inordinate self-love. — Here, however, the question arises, In what does this inordinateness consist? This is a point that needs to be well stated and clearly settled; for the refutation of many scruples and doubts that persons often have, depends upon it. And therefore I answer,
First, that the inordinateness of self-love does not consist in our love of our own happiness being, absolutely considered, too great in degree. — I do not suppose it can be said of any, that their love to their own happiness, if we consider that love absolutely and not comparatively, can be in too high a degree, or that it is a thing that is liable either to increase or diminution. For I apprehend that self-love, in this sense, is not a result of the fall, but is necessary, and what belongs to the nature of all intelligent beings, and that God has made it alike in all; and that saints, and sinners, and all alike, love happiness, and have the same unalterable and instinctive inclination to desire and seek it. The change that takes place in a man, when he is converted and sanctified, is not that his love for happiness is diminished, but only that it is regulated with respect to its exercises and influence, and the courses and objects it leads to. Who will say that the happy souls in heaven do not love happiness as truly as the miserable spirits in hell? If their love of happiness is diminished by their being made holy, then that will diminish their happiness itself; for the less anyone loves happiness, the less he relishes it, and, consequently, is the less happy.
When God brings a soul out of a miserable state and condition into a happy state, by conversion, he gives him happiness that before he had not, but he does not at the same time take away any of his love of happiness. And so, when a saint increases in grace, he is made still more happy than he was before; but his love of happiness, and his relish of it, do not grow less as his happiness itself increases, for that would be to increase his happiness one way, and to diminish it another. But in every case in which God makes a miserable soul happy, or a happy soul still more happy, he continues the same love of happiness that existed before. And so, doubtless, the saints ought to have as much of a principle of love to their own happiness, or love to themselves, which is the same thing, as the wicked have. So that, if we consider men’s love of themselves or of their own happiness absolutely, it is plain that the inordinateness of self-love does not consist in its being in too great a degree, because it is alike in all. But I remark, (Please click here to continue reading, "The Spirit of Love the Opposite of a Selfish Spirit")